Type Source
Date BC 0390
Tags philosophy, Kilobook Project, Socratic dialogue

Crito

After a few days' break, I've read Plato's Crito. Here, Crito argues that Socrates should allow him, or someone, to bribe the guards to allow Socrates to escape. Socrates argues that to do so would be unjust, and in the end Socrates remains to await his death. Once again, I'm reading Grube's translation.

When the Crito begins, Crito has already arrived, early in the day, to see Socrates, and convey to him the news that the ship from Delos is soon to arrive, and so the time of Socrates's execution is at hand. He pleads with Socrates (apparently not for the first time) to allow him to bribe the guards to allow Socrates to escape, or, if Socrates fears the financial burden on him, his friend, then to allow some others, strangers to him, who have offered to pay to bribe the guards instead. Anticipating also that Socrates might fear for their safety, having helped him escape, Crito implores Socrates to forget any such fear, for his friends would be justified in running such a risk to save him. So he asks Socrates to escape and, if he will go to Tessaly, some friends of his there will welcome and keep him.

Then Crito brings to bear the argument that one imagines he is most hopeful of convincing Socrates: that what Socrates is doing (i.e. not escaping) is unjust, for several reasons. First, he says, doing this allows his enemies to have what they desire, to destroy Socrates. Second, he is betraying his sons by leaving them, showing no concern for their fate. He says that Socrates is taking the easier path, rather than the right path. Furthermore, he says, all of Socrates's friends will be regarded as having cared more for themselves and their money than their friend Socrates, not having either stopped him being convicted or else spirited him away to avoid his fate, and so Socrates will also harm his friends by doing this.

Socrates dismisses Crito's concern for how he and Socrates's other friends will be seen, saying that they should not care for the opinions of such people, even though if Socrates's friends have a bad reputation the masses may even (as Socrates himself points out) kill Crito and the others. He says that they should not be concerned with living, only living well, and that as for all those concerns Crito raises, they properly belong to those who easily put men to death. For Socrates and Crito, Socrates says, the only question is whether they would act rightly in escaping.

Socrates then defends his position that to escape would be wrong by essaying to speak in place of the laws of Athens, as though they, the laws, would ask him to give an account of himself, and justify the harm that he does to them, which he has agreed to be bound by, since he has lived his life in Athens, and not left, as he was free to do.

Ultimately, Crito can offer no convincing argument to Socrates, and so Socrates remains captive, and awaits his execution.

I find Socrates's defense of his decision to accept his punishment both interesting and a little insufficient. His argument that he has, by living in Athens and benefiting from its laws, agreed to be bound by those same laws himself, is compelling. It is not a total defense of the rule of law--in particular it does not justify the application of laws to the young, or, if we strictly follow Socrates's argument, even necessarily those who have fared poorly or often left the city. Still, it is a solid defense of accepting the dictates of the law, even if the outcome seems to him to be unjust, in this instance. The law is just, and Socrates had an opportunity to defend himself, or else ask that his punishment be exile if he would prefer to leave and not be bound by the City's laws, so he must do as the law demands.

His argument (or, really, simple assertion) that all the possible consequences of Socrates's death are the sole concern of the jury is not so satisfactory. Certainly they should be concerned with whether the punishment they set is just, but, if they act unjustly, are all other men bound to accept injustice, even if they should have the power to correct the injustice? I do not think that Socrates himself would find that men are justified in ignoring injustice merely because they are not directly responsible for its coming to pass--and, in this case, Socrates is, if not culpable for the injustice, certainly not wholly uninvolved with it. Indeed, he has said during his trial that a good man must come to the help of justice.

He dismisses the harm that he does to his friends if their reputations suffer for his insistence on accepting his punishment. That Crito and the others should not care what the masses say isn't necessarily wrong, but Socrates's argument only supports that Crito should not act on the advise of the masses, or simply for fear of their disapproval, for they are not experts in the important matters. But, Crito is not concerned merely with their disapproval: he is concerned that real harm may befall him as a result of their disapproval. And Socrates himself agrees that this could happen. So, if, by choosing to escape or remain, Socrates has the power to bring harm or prevent harm to his friends, and if helping or preventing harm to one's friends is a moral obligation, then it seems to me that Socrates must consider his choice as having meaningful consequences--as one option being just and the other unjust, or at least less just. Certainly, as a practical concern, one must balance the harm of being known to have bribed Socrates's guards with the harm of being known not to have bribed the guards, but whatever the result of this calculus may be, Socrates has simply dismissed the issue without a thought.

Finally, Socrates's argument that it would be unjust to escape hinges on the assumption that to flout the laws and escape would be to willfully damage the laws and the City. But, one might argue that if the law causes unjust consequences, the law itself may be flawed, and that to accept the unjust consequences is to be complicit in the commission of the injustice, and any future injustices that come about as a result of the same process. The counterargument to Socrates, then, is that it is the higher duty--better serving justice--to refuse unjust consequences and seek to correct the flaws in the law.

In the end, Socrates is content with his situation, but I do not share his apparent satisfaction with the arguments he has presented, and frankly I suspect that Crito, too, was unsatisfied. But Socrates would not be dissuaded from his course, and the rest is history.

Character Type
Crito Main
Socrates Main
Name Role
Plato Author